Pria Bhabra, Commissioning Officer (Migrant Access) talks about the Migrant Access Project and what it does.
Leeds is an amazing, compassionate city, and the most diverse outside London, where over 140 ethnic groups live. In more recent times people arrive, fleeing war and persecution, looking for work or generally in the hope of a better future for themselves and their families.
So if you are new to a country, new to a city or new to an area how do you cope? If you don’t know what to expect from the weather, the roads, the people, the shops, the police, the health service, the menu in the local cafe, in fact just about everything… everything that we take for granted.The Migrant Access Project, (MAP), developed by Leeds City Council, Touchstone and Feel Good Factor, is there to help. The project aims to reduce pressures on services where migration has impacted the most at the same time as helping new arrivals to put down roots in Leeds.
What is MAP? It’s a living human map of new Leeds communities which links them to the right service at the right time. MAP provides trained people, who speak the community languages, to help and join people with the correct up-to-date information to get the services they need. This not only benefits migrants, but also helps services provide effective support and reduces the number of people going to the wrong service or not getting any support at all. MAP talks to them and learns what they need.
So how do we do this? MAP trains Migrant Community Networkers (MCNs) who are from different national, ethnic or language backgrounds, to talk to new arrivals about life in Leeds.
How does it work? There are over 90 MCNs trained and over half of them are active MAP volunteers. They are trained with the latest information so they can spread important messages to their communities that help integration and active citizenship. MCNs host interactive sessions within their communities and in partnership with service providers if needed. Services get support with language and engaging with new communities in their areas. The migrant third sector works with migrant communities, with some commissioned to support asylum seekers and refugees and others, eastern European migrants.
I work alongside Samantha Powell from Touchstone Community Development Service, providing weekly drop-ins to provide one to one support, listening, being a voice, giving training on many topics, identifying skills, linking to the right people, raising awareness, giving the migrants the opportunity to do something as they progress in life. MAP shares resources, experiences, skills and ideas.
I have learned how different communities have different needs depending on where they have come from. It’s not just about culture or how things happened in their country of origin, but sadly the situation they have tried to leave behind often impacts on their mental health.
But I know for sure that the biggest need for the majority is to learn English and understand how things work in Leeds and how to navigate the complex systems that face them.
I love my job, no day is ever the same and I learn so much from so many different people, their lives, their stories, their struggles, their cultures, their food, their country’s history, their resilience. Even how they can make a pound go such a long way! What amazing and resourceful people.
It’s a slow process. It’s challenging. But for Samantha and me, it’s rewarding. If anyone would like further information on MAP please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org